Ah, May…caught somewhere between Easter and the peak tourist season. Warmer and drier than April, but not as hot as the summer.
In other words, a decent time to visit Vienna. Particularly if you enjoy your music, food and drink, for May is a month full of classical and culinary festivals.
Top activities in May 2021
So, aside from the usual museums, galleries and other sights, what does May offer the discerning visitor to Vienna?
(Note that public health restrictions may still affect all the below suggestions, so check locally and with official websites. For example, Vienna is in hard lockdown until at least May 2nd.)
Bring a glass
Not all the slopes in Austria are for skiing down. The country has a lot of vineyards (as does Vienna itself). Austrians also drink more beer per head than anybody except our thirsty Czech neighbours.
Vienna’s bars and restaurants allow you to taste the local beers and wines, or you can visit these festivals in May:
- The two-day Craft Bier Fest (2021 dates TBA) attracts dozens of breweries from around the country and abroad, who are all happy to provide a sample for you to taste in exchange for a coin or two
- Beer lovers might also like the four-day open-air Vienna Beer Festival (cancelled, possibly with a new date later in the year), where brewers big and small come together in the very centre of Vienna
- The city-owned Cobenzl winery normally has an open day in May (2021 date TBA), which is free. Though you do have to pay if you want to try some of the (excellent) wines. The winery also sits on a hill with lovely views across the city
- And if wine tasting is of interest, then consider the Vienna Wine Fest (2021 date TBA), a trade fair that also opens its doors to the public. The entrance ticket includes tastings
Bring a plate
A fine glass of wine or beer goes better with a fine dish of regional food. And, as luck would have it, there are plenty of food festivals in May, too.
- The Genuss Festival (cancelled for 2021; 2022 dates TBA) is an open-air gourmet paradise, with stalls lining the winding paths through the Stadtpark city gardens. The booths come from all over the country to sell local specialties (to eat, take away, or use as gifts)
- Burgenland is a small province east of Vienna, and the Burgenland Kultinarium (cancelled for 2021; 2022 dates TBA) festival encourages you to learn about the area with the help of large quantities of its wonderful food and drink
- The 3-day Waldviertelpur festival (cancelled for 2021; 2022 dates TBA) features the best of the Waldviertel region (a rural area northwest of Vienna). This includes their rather hearty cuisine, particularly a myriad different things you can do with poppy seeds
- The European Street Food festival (pushed back to September) rolls into town with trucks and stalls tempting you with a wide diversity of culinary delights from around the globe
4 wheels good, 2 wheels better
May wears a cycling helmet. The Argus Bike Festival (May 30) is normally a lovely two-day event with information stands, bike-related exhibitors and lots of two-wheeled show action. In 2021, though, expect just a flea market and bike parade.
Join the celebrations
(Heldenplatz – home to the Fest der Freude open-air concert)
The 2021 May festivals don’t end there, either.
- The Donaukanaltreiben festival (2021 dates TBA) celebrates urban life with a party-like atmosphere down by the Danube Canal that runs alongside Vienna’s city centre. Think live music, bars, street food, flea markets and similar
- Think of the Steffl Kirtag (2021 dates TBA) outside the cathedral as a cross between a village funfair and a Christmas market (but without the Christmas part)
- The Fest der Freude (May 8, 2021, in virtual form only) celebrates the liberation of Vienna and the end of Nazi rule with a free concert on Heldenplatz square next to the Hofburg palace. The Vienna Symphony orchestra performs, with the event also in remembrance of those who suffered at the hands of that occupation
- The Summer Night Concert (2021 date now in June) is another free evening of classical music. Which may sound a bit meh until you realise the orchestra in question is the world-famous Wiener Philharmoniker. And the “concert hall” is the landscaped park and gardens in front of Schönbrunn Palace. Wow
And, as a little May bonus, numerous Christian institutions open their doors to visitors during the Long Night of the Churches (May 28th, 2021). Enjoy an evening of events ranging from organ recitals to rooftop tours.
Bring a sketch pad
Many museums had to tweak plans in the light of the 2020 closures and the knock-on effects on the art world. But provisional exhibition plans that caught my eye among the many available include:
- Catch the last full month of the Bauhaus exhibition at the furniture museum
- One I’m personally looking forward to is the Women of the Wiener Werkstätte exhibition at the MAK, throwing a much-needed light on the contribution of women to that pillar of the Wiener Moderne movement
- The Kunsthistorisches Museum starts its new Higher Powers exhibition on May 18th: an exploration of human beliefs in God(s), fate, nature, and more
- The Albertina dives into its collection to bring us some of the very best landscape paintings of the past 450 years
- Two of the three Warhol exhibitions at the MUMOK continue through May
- One of the world’s greatest fashion and art photographers gets a major retrospective at the Kunst Haus Wien: Elfie Semotan
Go for a swim
The beginning of May typically sees Vienna’s 28 outdoor public swimming facilities open up for the summer. These include:
- 11 family facilities, with shallow pools and family-friendly prices
- 7 multipurpose facilities, with both indoor and outdoor pools
- 10 summer facilities with open-air pools only, including large riverside recreational areas such as the Gänsehäufel
Buy some popcorn
Two international film festivals fill Viennese screens during May:
- The Jewish Film Festival (moves to October in 2021) features works from around the world that address aspects of Jewish life in all its facets and contexts
- The prestigious Vienna Shorts Festival (May 27 – June 1) tackles the short form version of movie-making, covering numerous genres and featuring some high-quality competitions, too
Enjoy the flowers
By early May, the spring flower displays planted by the city or national parks authorities are normally in full bloom. Try, for example:
- Schönbrunn Palace – the landscaped gardens in front of the palace are gorgeous. But also take the time to drop into the Kronprinzengarten, a privy garden with geometric shapes made of flower beds and different-coloured gravel
- The Rathauspark – the park surrounding the Rathausplatz square in the centre is usually full of tulips
- The gardens between the two Baroque palaces at Belvedere should have a flower or three by now
- The Volksgarten – a public gardens opposite the Rathausplatz and home to hundreds of different rose varieties
- Hirschstetten – a large (and beautiful) landscaped gardens and park that actually serves as a plant nursery facility for the city